Every patron approaches the calculus of the Masters Tournament final round differently. Some head directly to No. 18 and plant chairs. 30 rows are set up on the hill surrounding the green by 9 a.m. Others gravitate to various holes. Still others follow twosomes around the course. The largest of those galleries coalesces around the final pairing: Phil Mickelson and Peter Hanson.
With three wins at Augusta National Golf Club, Phil has earned super favorite status, and at the start of the day trails the Swede by a single stroke. Shouts of “Phil” resound as he enters the tee box. Then Mickelson hits it straight down the middle and the crowd is loud and appreciative and apprehensive. Somebody yells “get in the hole” while the ball is in the air. There is laughter as they excitedly head off in pursuit.
A gallery is a living, breathing creature. A family that bonds together over the peaks and valleys is the object of its attention. It’s also a nurse that ministers to its subject like a cluster of white blood cells rushing to isolate infections. When stoked correctly, it can be an arrangement of adrenaline or the ember of a fire that needs but a tiny spark to come alive.
And as the day wears on, the gallery earns a doctorate in the science of interpreting roars. On the very first hole while walking to the green, a slow building roar explodes in what surely must be an eagle somewhere down the course.
Could this have been even louder than an eagle? A pterodactyl perhaps. After all, Mickelson is right here. It’s not a Mickelson roar. “What was that?” “Where was that?” “Had to be an eagle.” “What do you think? 6? 16?” “Could have been on 2.” It was indeed on 2. And it was a pterodactyl. An albatross, to be exact. Also known as a double eagle by Louis Oosthuizen in the pairing ahead.
Galleries can be tough to stay abreast of. Especially large galleries. At spots where the course narrows, legions of followers are forced to sidle single file. Sometimes the crossways close at inopportune times. Another reason it’s hard to keep up is the players get to take short cuts. Right down the fairway. Most of us manage to keep up.
Every hole we complete, volunteers gather the ropes behind us, and stash them away making goodbyes to fellow rope tenders. This is the final twosome of 2012. After us, it’s all over.
Another roar. Hole in one on No. 16? Or is that 15? Or 6? Another roar. What is going on? Guys talk. You hear things. A buzz shoots through the confluence. A hole in one on 16. By Adam Scott. The first was one by Bo Van Pelt. This is turning into an incredible day. But not for Phil.
A series of horrible groans emanate from the front of No. 4. Something bad has happened. The sheer width and depth of the gallery prevents 80 percent of us from figuring out what is going on. Both Hanson and Mickelson are 6-foot-3 and attract a particularly tall group.
Later we hear, after hitting it way left, Mickelson tried to hit a club backwards and upside down. What? Takes a 3 on 6. On one hole he goes from second place, one off the lead, to tied for sixth, four strokes back. Never recovers. Our gallery stays with him until about the No. 14, when they are lured by the roars from Bubba Watson’s birdie and Matt Kuchar’s eagle on 15. Prompting a new roar: “Kuuuuch. Kuuuuch. Kuuuuch.”
Some of us commit the unthinkable and jump galleries. Others pack up and head home to watch the finish on TV. Alas. It was not meant to be. As the score board flips up the final scores showing Phil and Peter tied for third, two strokes back, Amy Mickelson throws her arms around her husband and kisses him after his round. Most of us move on to the playoff featuring a South African an American left- hander. But not our lefty.
Bubba Watson wins the playoff and after all the cheering and public presentation of the Green Jacket, the last patrons trickle out, dissipating into the night while the maintenance staff waters the greens. After all, the 77th Masters Tournament starts in less than a year. Preparations for more dreams being granted are already being made.